On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.
One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.
Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, broken up into pieces and lost forever. As generations pass and the physical signs fade, it’s ever more important that we openly and honestly talk about Shepard and what happened to him – not just the attack, but what we can learn from his life and death and the very real ways in which they impact our own lives.
In the very meeting where I found out that the show was in town, we were discussing what is being done and what more might be needed to address bullying in schools. We also discussed the federal hate crime law that bears Shepard’s name. And just today the FBI released its 2009 hate crime statistics.
Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues.